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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at the Annual Convention of the International Union of Electrical Workers.
Lyndon B. Johnson
590 - Remarks at the Annual Convention of the International Union of Electrical Workers.
September 23, 1964
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1963-64: Book II
Lyndon B. Johnson
1963-64: Book II

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Mr. Carey, my fellow Americans:

I wanted to come here earlier this morning, but Jim Carey is rather conservative and he reminded me that the Bible says, "The sleep of the laboring man is sweet," especially during convention time, so I delayed my arrival because in my heart I knew he was right.

This is the season for new television shows, and I am greatly honored to appear on your six-city network, although I may get some mixed reviews. I am not particularly worried about the Textile Workers in New York, because with a wife and two daughters, I feel like I am helping to maintain full employment in the textile industry.

I am not worried about the Missouri Labor Council in Kansas City because on a lot of things I hear and read these days, I am from Missouri, too. I am not worried about the Tobacco Workers in Miami Beach, or the United Rubber Workers in Chicago, or my friends out there in St. Paul, all of whom I hope are there with us this morning.

I want to salute each of you and thank you for the privilege of visiting with you. Our host here in Washington makes light bulbs, and everybody knows what I do with those.

So I think I should just begin this morning by saying that I hope all of you got enough sleep last night, because from now on you and I, and really all Americans who want to live in a decent, responsible, peaceful land, have much work to do.

President Carey, President Burdon, President Baldanzi, President O'Hare, President Olson, President Rollings, to you and to all of your members all across the land I have come this morning to ask all of you to stand up and be counted. I ask you, I ask businessmen, I ask reasoning and responsible men and women everywhere to stand up and be counted for the character and the conscience of their country.

That is what is under challenge as we meet here. Men may speak of incidents that are far away. They may talk of this headline or that. They may offer slurs today and slanders tomorrow, and more than that in the days to come. But let there be no mistake: It is the heart of our American way of life that is under attack, and those who love it must go forth to save it.

Americans are not presented with a choice of parties. Americans are not presented with a choice of liberalism and conservatism.

Americans are faced with a concerted bid for power by factions which oppose all that both parties have supported. It is a choice between the center and the fringe, between the responsible mainstream of American experience and the reckless and rejected extremes of American life.

If the challenge is loud, the call of duty is clear.

We are called upon to stand up and be counted, for we have a duty, we have a clear and a compelling duty, to make it clear that America has not fallen and will not fall into the hands of extremists of any stripe.

A nation so strong and free as ours can tolerate the widest diversity of opinion and belief, and it actually can be made stronger by full and responsible discussion. But there come times when men must turn and stand against those factions and factions who would lead the people to believe that the road to individual freedom is, in reality, a road to collective serfdom.

This generation of Americans must not be deceived. The success of our system must not be mocked. The factions which bid for power over your lives and the lives of your children, and over the control of your government, bear many names, they wear many masks, they espouse many causes. But they are united today--as they have been united for 30 years--by the determination that your country shall not provide for the general welfare of its citizens.

They may talk of changing the world, but what they mean to change is America first.

Before Viet-Nam was a name, before the Congo was a map, before there was a NATO or a nuclear weapon these factions were working here at home--working against minimum wages, working against the 40-hour week, working against social security, working against labor's rights, working against the TVA and the REA, working against slum clearance and public works, working against the United Nations and the nuclear test ban, working against the Alliance for Progress, working against aid to our neighbors in the world.

Yes, that is where they stood three decades ago, and that is where they stand today. That is where the line is really drawn in America in this election year.

These factions despise the word "democracy," dislike the word "equality," and they distrust the word "peace." They would now reduce the word "compassion" to a whisper, and they would have us mention it only in apology.

Well, on this I refuse to turn and run.

So long as I am President, I intend to honor the mandate of the Constitution that I am sworn to uphold. I intend to see that this Government, as the servant of this great people, "provides for the general welfare." Welfare is an old and honored work of our system. One of the first acts of the first Congress, under President Washington, was to provide pensions for invalid soldiers. Under John Adams what was to become the Public Health Service was established. President Abraham Lincoln proposed the first assistance for widows and children. President Theodore Roosevelt called the first White House Conference on Care of Dependent Children. It was President William Howard Taft who first established the Children's Bureau.

These were works of compassion, triumphs of justice. But there are factions today which condemn social justice as the work of those that were bent on centralizing power in Washington. They forget their history, and they betray their ignorance of the American people.

For in many works of compassion, States have led the way. In 1898 Utah enacted an 8-hour day. In 1908 Oregon limited the hours of work for women. In 1911 Illinois passed the first statute providing mothers aid, the forerunner of aid to families of dependent children. In 1914 the first oldage pension was established in a State where character has not been collectivized by compassion-the great State of Arizona.

From Plymouth Rock until this day, Americans have been careful about the welfare of their fellow man.

I intend that we shall not be turned from this trait of our American character, or this conviction of our American conscience. I believe that we must, as Teddy Roosevelt once put it, guard "against two besetting sins--hardness of heart and softness of heart."

This generation of Americans rejects the answer of a welfare state for our free society. We reject the regimentation and the stifling of incentive and the limiting of reward. We reject the idea of government decreeing who shall work and where they shall work, or where they and their families shall live.

Here in America we know there is for us a better way. We have fashioned in our years a good society. We shall, in the years to come, dedicate ourselves to making it great. The object of all we do is to give our people a fair start or a new start in the race of life, whatever lot they are born to, whatever fate may befall them.

I believe that I know the American people. I know that they do not intend, on this summit of our success, to forget or to ignore those who need our help to make the climb. We have work to do, not work to quit.

America must keep her trust with her senior citizens. We must let them provide for their hospital care and nursing home care through social security. We must concern ourselves with the level of their income. We must attack the problem of their housing, which is too often inadequate and too often takes more than half of their income.

But America must keep her trust with her children, because in 6 more years there will be 10 million more young Americans--10 million more between the ages of 5 and 17, 5 million more between 18 and 21, and here again we must be concerned with the level of income on which many are supported. We must make sure that they can meet their health needs. We must act in every way to strengthen the life of their families. We must make sure that every boy and girl in America has all the education that they can use.

We must be concerned with the nearly 2 million juveniles who get into trouble each year with the law. We must focus our concern on the causes of their troubles, not only on the youths themselves.

Yes, to you good members of this honorable and responsible union there is work for you to do, for us to do--work to build this good society better, work to make this strong country the foundation of a great and a compassionate civilization.

This is the American way of life, and this is the way that is under attack today from the fringe and from the extremes. I call upon you, here and now, to begin this hour to start fighting in order to save it.

Our directions and our destiny must not be placed in the hands of those who would steer a reckless and a callous course. We must be guided not by those whose compass points backward, but by those whose eye and hearts are fixed on the stars that lead us forward.

We have no time for arrogance or belligerence. We have no time for callousness on contempt, either in the policies of our Nation or in the hearts of our leaders.

Our duty, our opportunity, is to fulfill the rights of all men all over our land, not only because we shall be judged more by what we do at home than what we preach abroad, but because it is right.

Once a visitor said to President Lincoln "We trust, sir, that God is on our side The Great Emancipator turned to him and said quietly, "It is more important to know that we are on God's side."

So we come not with any venom in our blood or any hate in our soul, or any viciousness in our voice this morning. We come and say, let us, then, on this day and in this year, all of us as good Americans who want to do what is best for our country, who want to do what is best for all the people of this great land--let us be sure that the course that we set for our Nation is on God's side

And what is that course? It is a course of peace, it is a course of understanding, is a course of living by the Golden Rule doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. You will be condemned and criticized as Lincoln was. You will be misrepresented and vilified as Roosevelt was. But you must follow in your dealings with your fellow man and with your relations with other nations a course of justice to all, special privilege to none.

You must follow a course of compassion and courage. You must love thy neighbor as thyself, and you must try to point the way, and to lift up the weak so that he, too, may be strong. Yes, you must point a course of courage in these trying times when smear and fear and intolerance are abroad in the land, the same courage that brought this Nation into existence, the same courage that held this Union together.

The same courage that crossed the oceans on two occasions in our lifetime to preserve freedom in the world was never needed more than it is needed today. Unless I miss my guess, it has never been possessed to a greater degree than it is possessed today in the souls of each of you who sit in this room.

Yes, we know not what the future may bring. We know not how we may be led. We know not what may be God's will. But His course is to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. I would like to feel, as I leave this room and return to the lonely acres that are surrounded by a big, black, iron fence, that whatever I do, wherever I go, wherever my decisions may lead us, I will have your prayers and your support.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in midmorning in the Presidential Ballroom at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Washington. His opening words referred to James B. Carey, president of the International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers. During the course of his remarks the President referred to George Burdon, president, United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum, and Plastic Workers of America, George Baldanzi, president, United Textile Workers of America, John O'Hare, president, Tobacco Workers International Union, R. A. Olson, president, Minnesota AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, and John I. Rollings, president, Missouri State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

The President's remarks were carried by closed circuit TV to the international conventions of the United Rubber Workers, in Chicago, the United Textile Workers, in New York City, and the Tobacco Workers, in Miami Beach, and to the State conventions of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, in St. Paul, and the Missouri AFL-CIO, in Kansas City. The remarks were also broadcast by radio to 20 cities throughout the United States.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at the Annual Convention of the International Union of Electrical Workers.," September 23, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26521.
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